After the Centre's announcement that Maharashtra will get a French-built nuclear power plant, West Bengal could be the next in line for this central gift. But there is a problem: The plant is likely to be American-built. So, the Left-ruled government in the state is thinking if it wants to give land for a reactor built by the Americans.
Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPI (M), told Business Standard: "That question (of allotting a nuclear power plant) will come much later. What I can tell you is that after the elections, this government will not remain in power to make all these plans."
Be that as it may, now that the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement has been signed, sealed and delivered, the Department of Atomic Energy (under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) is looking for sites where civilian nuclear energy can be generated.
According to sources in the Prime Minister's Office, a nuclear plant with the help of France will be set up at Jaitapur, Maharashtra. The state has already set aside land for the project. Andhra Pradesh was also approached, but Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy said he would rather have a special economic zone in his state. In this situation, the Centre wants to set up a nuclear power station in West Bengal.
In the late 1980s, the then chief minister, Jyoti Basu, had sought the setting up of a nuclear power plant in his state. He had even informed the Centre that the plant could be set up on a plot of land in Haripur in Midnapur district. According to top sources, the UPA government has revived this proposal.
CPI (M) sources suggest that though it will continue to oppose the nuclear deal, the party has not taken a comprehensive view of the issues involved. Even when it takes a decision, it is not just the American involvement but also land acquisition which is likely to represent a problem. After the Singur setback, even CPI(M) leaders admit that it is difficult to acquire land in West Bengal.
Md Amin, a Politburo member, doesn't see much merit in the proposal. "There is a debate whether a nuclear plant should be allowed in West Bengal. We have to be cautious, especially after the Chernobyl incident in the erstwhile Soviet Union."
Nilotpal Basu, a prominent Central Committee member of the CPI (M), has another argument: "The issue of reprocessing rights is still unresolved. The government of India has not yet cleared the dispute over pricing the nuclear power. After all, it is the people who have to pay for the power."
Basu says his party has objected to India's offer to the US to build reactors. "Prakash Karat has already said that the letter written by the Indian foreign secretary to Under Secretary William Burns is actually a letter of intent to buy a minimum of 10,000 Mw from the dying US nuclear industry. This is a clandestine process."
Mamata Banerjee chased the Nano project out of Bengal. This time, the CPI (M) might throw out the nuclear power project all by itself.